By: Gary Zenker
It’s the same argument every time the two of them are in the car together with me.
“Don’t listen to her, she’s telling you the long way. Turn left here and then go straight,” my wife commands. I don’t offer any thoughts out loud because I know that tone of voice all too well. I fiddle with the dashboard sound controls to get the entire music balance going to the back speakers. She gets annoyed when she has to compete with the radio.
“Make a U-turn at the next intersection,” the other woman’s voice announces, refusing to acknowledge my wife’s comments or presence. I grip the steering wheel tightly enough that I see my knuckles turn white when I should be watching the road.
“Don’t listen to her,” my wife instructs again, not looking back. This is a mistake, I know it. But it’s too late. Is there a part of me that subconsciously believes that I deserve it? That could explain being in this position.
“You know I’m right,” my wife intones. And with those four words, I know what’s coming. All of it. Proof positive of her rightness. “I was right about the roof leak and that we should have fixed it before the fall.” She doesn’t mention the sheet rock sagging and then falling on her grandmother’s teapot collection; the stare she gives me is enough. “And the washer, the tree in the back yard that nearly destroyed the living room, the finger paints that you gave the kids…” All couples use shorthand phrases that represent entire stories mostly so they can fit more examples into a single breath for maximum impact.
Then it gets really personal. “I was right about your mom’s boyfriend, and that woman from work who was flirting with you, and….”
Of course, there’s stuff she’s been wrong about, as well. She was wrong that my sister would like the painting we bought for her birthday. You would think that the fact it isn’t hanging anywhere in my sister’s house might be a clue. It apparently isn’t. And she was wrong about which direction to store all the records I’d had since being a teenager. They are all incredibly warped and unplayable, just as vinyl has made a comeback. And she was wrong about how long you can drive a car before you change the oil. Boy, was she wrong about that. There’s more, but as I look over at her, I’m convinced that she can read my thoughts. I immediately switch to thinking about the music on my iPhone and other things that will get me in less trouble.
All this time, the other voice is wisely silent. When she finally does speak again, she stays annoyingly on topic. “Turn left on Ash Avenue.” Couldn’t she focus on anything else?
“Wrong. There’s always traffic there. It’s backed up this time of day. And the Christmas tree leaning too much…half my ornaments broke that year. I was right about that. And…”
I begin to hum lightly to myself, which the wife unfortunately hears.
“Are you tuning me out?”
“No, of course not,” and I am telling the truth, kind of. I may be trying to tune her out but I since I’m not succeeding, my answer seems at least not a full-out lie. “You know, there’s nothing wrong with a second opinion,” I state without thinking.
“Make a left turn at Orange Street,” comes the other voice right precisely at the wrong time.
“Orange? Who the fuck would turn on Orange? That’s a neighborhood, for God’s sake. And remember the time we went to Reading. Her directions rode us in circles…” I do remember that incident, although I think the two of them talking over each other was part of the problem. I don’t offer that up.
“You’re right,” I nod. I entertain visions of purposefully driving into the guard rail and flipping the car down from the overpass onto another car and into a fiery wreck or, if I’m lucky, a full fuel tanker. The thought is calming.
The two continue their back and forth independent direction-giving until I finally can’t take it anymore. “Please stop,” I blurt out as I pull the car onto the shoulder of the road. There is a moment of silence nearly as scary as the previous din.
“This isn’t a big deal. We’re just going to the supermarket ten minutes away.” I ask my wife which direction to take.
“Just go straight four blocks, then turn left at the light.” I pull away from the curb and exactly two blocks later, run into stopped traffic. Blinking red and blue lights and a downed electrical cable. With cars quickly stacked behind us, there’s no space to turn around. Trapped.
For my own safety, I only look straight ahead. I turn up the music to fill the uncomfortable silence. And then I hear that little sweet voice say one last thing. “Heavy traffic ahead. Recalculating.”
Good story, Gary! Question: does the protagonist choose a female voice for his GPS just to irritate his wife? Does it sound like an old girlfriend?
Very enjoyable story!
Great story, Gary! This crosses so many generations. I can hear it in my grandparent’s voices and my own sad generation. It’s timeless.